Walking is complicated. Sometimes there are sticks, and stones, and tree roots, and spiders. And once you’re off the carpet and in the real world, the ground you’re trying to cover is almost never flat.
It seems our current foster child spent much of his first year inside a small apartment, where he saw little of the outside world, even through a window. He learned to crawl, but walking and talking were some distance away when he arrived with us at 13 months.
So daily exercise since the lockdown has meant something slightly different to our small fellow householder.
At first he went with us to discover the local woods in a backpack, where he’d shout out and laugh at the waving branches and the space all around him. Other daily walkers could hear us coming from the other side of the woods.
But once he’d taken a few steps, he quickly became more confident at striding around the house, so we let him have a go at a woodland path. He spent an astonished twenty minutes swaying and stumbling along a 10 yard stretch of track, peering down at the stones and folds in the dry mud, placing every step with the care he checks his vegetables at dinner time. There he was, beginning to master his vestibular and proprioceptive skills ready for every day of the rest of his life. (I had to look those words up too). “Hurray!” we said.
A week later, he tried a downhill. Roots and stones and tufts of grass, each one a small challenge, every uneven step a little surer than the last. There were small wooden steps to hurdle over, but he refused to hold my finger after the first three, and after he’d spent 10 minutes storming the distance Usain Bolt ran in 9.58 seconds, he stepped over another hurdle, looked up and demanded a round of applause.
Walking on uneven surfaces is such a complicated problem of balance and mechanical efficiency that some of the brightest minds are still struggling to teach a high powered robot to do it well. But our foster boy, like most humans, has learned to walk before he has the power of words to understand what on earth it is he’s doing.
After his late start in active outdoor life, he’s now catching up and walking more confidently. Now that his feet and legs know about bumps and gravity, he’s getting ready to run.
The quiet, scared little boy who arrived 5 months ago has learned he can be as excited about the world around him as anyone in their second year of life, as our local daily exercisers hear when they’re within shouting distance.
We see the social media posts about baking, opinionating and crafting during lockdown, and we sometimes get asked what we’ve been doing. Well, we’re foster carers, and we’ve been helping a scarred youngster get on with his life. We’ve helped a little boy learn how to walk.
If you’re interested in becoming a foster carer with us, please phone 0114 2735075 or visit www.sheffield.gov.uk/fostering